By Dina Zelden

April is National Pecan Month, and a great time to learn more about this powerhouse of nutrition.  The word pecan is derived from an Algonquin word meaning “nut requiring a stone to crack.”  Native tribes in the U.S. and Mexico relied on the nut for its nutritional value.  In 1780, Thomas Jefferson planted pecan trees at Monticello and soon after shared them with George Washington.  Pecans, favored as a nutritious snack, have even been taken into space to be enjoyed by astronauts!

Heart Health
According to the USDA, pecans rank among the top 15 foods high in antioxidants.  Antioxidants help protect against heart disease, cancer and other diseases.  Pecans have been certified as a heart healthy food by the American Heart Association in part because they help lower the levels of LDL- bad cholesterol- and help raise the level of HDL- good cholesterol.  They are a good source of monounsaturated fat which helps reduce cholesterol, blood pressure and other heart disease risk factors.  Thirty grams of pecans have 25 percent more oleic acid, an unsaturated fat, than 1 tablespoon of olive oil. 

Digestive Health
A 1-ounce serving of pecans provides 2.7 mg of dietary fiber which represents 10 percent of the recommended daily value.  Fiber promotes colon health and helps prevent constipation.  The high fiber content and high protein value also help keep you satiated which is conducive to weight loss.  According to a study at Tufts University in conjunction with the National Pecan Shellers Association, pecans were shown to significantly improve insulin sensitivity, helping to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in adults.  Pecans are also free of gluten, sodium and cholesterol, making them a great addition to many restricted diets.

Other Health Benefits
Pecans are packed with a variety of vitamins and minerals such as manganese, potassium, calcium, magnesium, selenium, iron and zinc.  These vitamins and minerals boast a wide variety of benefits including healthy skin and hair, immunity booster and they help guard against inflammation in the body. 

With many forms- halves, bits, meal and oil- it is easy to add pecans to your diet.  Their buttery flavor and crunchy texture make them a welcome addition to everything from smoothies at breakfast to salads and main dishes at lunch or dinner.  Its natural sweetness lends itself well to desserts of all kinds, while the meaty texture makes it a versatile addition to a veggie burger.  Nutrition expert Carolyn O’Neil reminds us, “It’s a handful, not a canful!”   Add pecans to your diet in moderation for that winning combination of taste and nutrition!

Pecans were shown to significantly improve insulin sensitivity, helping to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in adults.

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